T Series Guitars – How Traditional Can You Get?
Building vintage vibes while remaining intrinsically Collings deep down, the Traditional Series guitars look to be instant classics.
Luthiers Bill Collings, Bruce VanWart, and virtuoso Julian Lage collaborated to create the new Traditional Series, which draws its specs and inspiration from priceless vintage instruments.
Here is their T Series promotional video:
Top Shelf Guitars Built to a T for Traditional
While the details remain intentionally vague to create anticipation and “buzz”, the look of the instruments and what they say about the old guitars implies the new Collings T Series guitars are close reproductions of vintage Martins.
The participants in the video speak of the necks, and the weight and balance, and show bridges and scalloped braces that all seem quite vintage Martin-esque. Even the cases have been designed to evoke a vintage mystique.
But what Bill Collings’ describes as a fundamental midrange free from intruding overtones suggests the antithesis of traditional Martin tone, which has all sorts have harmonic overtones and sympathetic bottom end undertones continually mingling with the fundamentals. His words hit closer to vintage Gibson tone, even if no Gibson has the lengthy sustain of a Collings. But really, his overall account evokes typical Collings tone, with perhaps even fewer wondering overtones. And the actual guitars heard in the video seem to comply, while also having a more open echo under that pure Collings top voice that does have some vintage “old wooden box” vibe.
But what is clearly very much like vintage Martins is the shaping of the neck. They do not discuss that in detail in the video, so I went looking for particulars.
The Collings T Series instruments have the same headstock pitch and fingerboard thickness of previous Collings guitars. But the carving of the solid mahogany neck is entirely new for the small Austin, Texas company known for the uncompromising quality of their exquisite guitars and mandolins, and whose many devotees include A List artists Lyle Lovett and the late fingerstyle virtuoso Pete Huttlinger.
According to Mark Althans, Manager of Artist Relations, Customer Service, and Repairs for Collings and Waterloo Guitars, “It is a fairly faithful recreation of a late 30’s Martin 000 or D carve… Smaller in depth in the early frets than our standard Modified V, it’s a soft V with a more exaggerated taper (increased neck depth) into the upper frets…with the V becoming a bit more pronounced.”
That description does indeed fit many pre-war Martin necks, even if Althans seems to use “taper” to mean how a V neck increases in depth and girth as it moves toward the body, where Martin defines taper as the specific widening of the fretboard as it advances up the neck.
Wait There’s More
“The fingerboard edges are rolled over quite a bit as well, to create a nice worn-in feel. It’s a wonderful feeling neck,” Althans continued.
Now this I gotta see! There is something comforting about the worn feeling to a vintage Martin with an unbound neck. And Gibson builds their guitars with a rolled fingerboard from the get go.
But one of the things people love most about Collings guitars is how effortless and comfortable the necks feel. And yet at the same time, other people, usually those with larger hands or longer fingers, can find the Collings necks to be too shallow or narrow for their liking and the strings a bit too close together. Well, the T Series guitars may be ideal for just such guitarists.
Collings Traditional Series guitars come with a 1-3/4″ width at nut and 2-5/16″ string spacing (a favorite combination of mine.) And that should automatically require a slightly wider fingerboard in the upper frets from a standard Collings guitar. In combination with the vintage V neck shaping, that does appear to add up to a traditional feel indeed.
Something most modern makers get wrong is how vintage Martin necks do not have a perfectly-graduated slope from heel to headstock. They get quite shallow down in the Cowboy Chords area, at times with no V at all, but the thickness increases rapidly above the 5th fret. And Mark Althans suggests that is what they were going for with their new T Series necks.
“At this point,” Althans concluded, “we don’t currently have any nut width or saddle spacing options, but we intend to add at least one neck option, hopefully this year.”
Let Collings Be Collings
While all that is said and appreciated about traditional guitars from bygone days, these Traditional Series instruments retain the usual Collings internal neck construction and engineering that play an integral part in creating the unique Collings tone.
They have the same modern truss rod of other Collings guitars, reinforced with four spring steel strips, which add mass while reducing vibration in the neck. And they have the usual Collings neck joint. It is a hybrid of a dovetail and bolt-on neck design. Like a traditional dovetail, the mortise and tenon are flared wider than many bolt-on necks, increasing the area where the body and neck come into contact.
Unlike traditional Gibsons and Martins, where the tenon is craved out of the solid mahogany, the Collings tenon is a separate piece attached to the neck heel, with a solid birch dowel inserted in its center for extra strength. And the whole thing is held in place by two bolts, rather than being glued into a solid wood neck block, like the nineteenth-century dovetail joinery still used at Gibson and Martin.
This modern design allows future neck adjustments without having to deal with un-gluing, and even without removing the neck from the body in many cases. But it also further reduces the exchange of potential energy from body to the neck and back again. In Collings’ own words, their unique neck engineering “redirects string vibration back to the body for enhanced tone.”
In fact the actual voices of these guitars, as heard from the videos, say to my ear that the Traditional Series guitars sound more like traditional Collings guitars than anything else. They have very fat, strong, and yet very pure fundamental notes, and that very low to no undertone/overtone influence. Most any sympathetic tone from the back and sides reflects and enhances that top voice of fundamental notes with their lengthy, straight-as-an-arrow sustain. When sympathetic harmonics arise, they bloom late and hover in their own strata. One might say the T Series instruments sound like the very best Collings guitars, only more so.
Here is a video of Julian Lage performing on an OM-2H T, which gives a stellar demonstration of the strong yet ultra-pure Collings tone of these new finely-crafted T Series guitars.
In a word, AWESOME.
I am looking very forward to getting a Collings T Series guitar in my hands soon, and see how it compares to their other instruments, and how they compare to other maker’s vintage-like guitars.
And that is one man’s word on…
Collings T Series – How Traditional Can You Get?